Latin Sky raises $375 mil

MEXICO CITY — Sky Latin America’s Mexican operating company Innova raised $375 million in a private debt offering, Morgan Stanley & Co. announced Tuesday.

Innova, which launched Sky’s direct-to-home (DTH) Mexican platform last December, is 60% held by Televisa, with minority partners News Corp. (30%) and TCI Intl. (10%).

The debt consists of 12.8% senior notes due in 2007; the notes can be called after five years. Interest will be paid semiannually on April 1 and Oct. 1, starting next October.

Morgan Stanley said the sum will be used chiefly to finance capital expenditures and operating expenses connected with the Mexican rollout, plus the purchase of local company Medcom, a would-be DTH rival that Televisa agreed to buy out last fall.

The Mexican debt offering follows a similar, $200 million placement in Brazil last year. Discounting the portions of this debt set aside to service interest payments, the coin forms part of a total $600 million budget that Sky has calculated as its pan-Latino cost through operational break-even.

Given recent stock market volatility in New York and Mexico City, the successful completion of the offering is very positive for Innova, a Mexico-based analyst said……

But Moody’s senior analyst Robert Konefal, who assigned the debt a B2 rating, described Innova as a fairly risky venture, citing DTH competish from Hughes-backed Galaxy Latin America (GLA) and the limited number of Mexicans who can afford DTH.

“Innova needs several hundred thousand subscribers in relatively short order. A portion of the debt has been set aside to service around $48 million in annual interest for three years, but after that, Innova needs sufficient profits to meet that obligation,” Konefal said.

The analyst added that Innova does, however, have several competitive advantages over GLA, such as exclusive access to a lot of Televisa-produced broadcast and pay programming.

Sky’s L.A.-based VP-GM Mark Goldman told Daily Variety that the debt offering means Sky is now fully funded through to break-even in both Brazil and Mexico, the two key Latino markets.

To date, Innova is believed to have signed up 12,000 Mexican subscribers, against 50,000-plus for GLA. But GLA launched seven weeks ahead of Innova and has conducted a much more aggressive ad campaign, while Innova has suffered teething problems arising from the newer decoder technology it is using.

Goldman said that the bugs in Sky’s system have “largely been corrected.” He added that Innova will shortly ramp up its ad campaign.

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